Italian Soccer's Latest Response To Racist Fan Behavior Is Embarrassing

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Photo: Enrico Locci (Getty)

The biggest story at Juventus today should be the whirlwind ascent of the baby-faced striker phenom, Moise Kean. Yesterday, the 19-year-old Italian of Ivorian descent scored the match-killing goal against Cagliari, his fourth goal in his last four games for club and country. And while Kean is indeed the biggest story in Juventus, Italian, and even European soccer today, what has everyone talking is the racism he had to endure during the Cagliari match, which was followed by a tone-deaf response by his club and one of his teammates.

The latest in what now feels like the weekly occurrence of gross and depressing fan racism in soccer came to a head in the latter stages of Tuesday’s Cagliari-Juventus match. With about five minutes left in regulation of a tight contest, Kean doubled what had been a one-goal Juve lead with a cool strike in the 85th minute. He celebrated the goal by trotting over to the stands, standing in front of the away fans with his arms spread wide, and staring out at them with a blank expression:


What would inspire Kean to react to his goal in such defiance rather than joy? You can hear it right there in the video above. Cagliari fans responded to Kean’s celebration by showering the teenager with boos, whistles, and audible monkey noises. In the video, the announcer notes that fans had booed and whistled Kean every time he touched the ball throughout the match. Nearly as omnipresent as the boos and whistles for each of Kean’s touches were the unmistakable, racist “Ooo, ooo, ooo” grunts meant to equate black people to apes.

As one Twitter user documented in a comprehensive thread of videos, those boos, whistles, and monkey noises were loud enough for the TV broadcast microphones to pick up, and were aimed at Kean as well as the other black Juventus players on the pitch for the entire game. Some examples:


Clearly, this is racist. It is racist to target black people with monkey noises. It is racist to boo and whistle black players for no reason—Kean, Alex Sandro, and Blaise Matuidi have never done anything to raise the particular ire of Cagliari fans, and if anything Kean should be one of the more universally liked players across Serie A’s stadiums, seeing as he is Italy’s most promising young striker and scored two goals for the national team just over a week ago—other than their skin color. Clearly, this racist treatment was what Kean was responding to when he stood before the hostile crowd in triumphant defiance. But what’s not so clear, at least in the minds of some prominent figures in both Cagliari and Juventus, is that this kind of racist verbal assault is unacceptable.

Cagliari president Tommasso Giuliani did the most work trying to excuse the inexcusable. His argued that Kean was the one at fault for provoking the fans’ racism by standing quiet and still after he scored. “I don’t want people to start being self-righteous about it,” he told Sky Sports Italia in an interview, according to Football Italia. “If [Federico] Bernardeschi had celebrated like that, he would’ve been treated exactly the same way by our fans. If [Paulo] Dybala had the same drama queen antics after the goal that Matuidi did, he would’ve been treated exactly the same way.” Giuliani continued:

“We cannot go around calling the entire Cagliari crowd offensive things. If there were racist jeers, then our fans got it wrong, but it happened because of the celebration and would’ve happened even if the goalscorer had a different colour of skin.

“All I heard were whistles and jeers, but if you with your microphones picked up a few isolated racist insults, then of course those were wrong, but there’s no need to be self-righteous about it and cast a shadow over the entire Cagliari fanbase or the club.”


The president of a club with racist fans excusing those fans’ racism is predictable—sad, certainly, and stupid, too, but predictable. Less understandable was Kean’s own teammate, Leonardo Bonucci, making the same argument in his own postgame interview. From Football Italia:

“Kean knows that when he scores a goal, he has to focus on celebrating with his teammates. He knows he could’ve done something differently too,” Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia.

“There were racist jeers after the goal, Blaise heard it and was angered. I think the blame is 50-50, because Moise shouldn’t have done that and the Curva should not have reacted that way.

“We are professionals, we have to set the example and not provoke anyone.”

Thankfully, many soccer players around the world aren’t as dumb as Bonucci and have called him out. The most prominent has been Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who has emerged as one of the most thoughtful and outspoken opponents to racism in the sport. Not that Bonucci’s dumb ass deserves all that thoughtful of a response, mind:


Lyon’s Dutch forward Memphis Depay got in on the action by tweeting at Bonucci to express his “disappointment” in the Italian’s comments. Mario Balotelli, Paul Pogba, Patrice Evra, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Christian Benteke, and Christian Kabasele are some of the other fellow pros who backed Kean on social media. Juve teammate Matuidi defended Kean on the pitch by making the racist chants known to the referee, and also tweeted a message of support.

Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri’s comments were a little more dicy; he too contended that Kean’s celebration provoked the fans and that Kean shouldn’t have done that, but did clarify that Kean’s celebration “does not mean the idiots in the crowd and the way they reacted should be justified” and called for a protocol that would hand a lifetime ban to anyone caught making racist insults to players. And team captain Giorgio Chiellini said the right things in his postgame interview, explaining that Kean “did nothing” wrong and “certainly didn’t deserve the insults he received.”


What’s most troubling here is the lack of official response from Juventus as a whole. It’s all well and good for a few Juve players to say nice, supportive things about Kean in interviews and on social media, and for the coach to attempt, however clumsily, to stand up for his player. Still, you’d think the club itself would want to send an unequivocal message to the world that they will not stand for racist attacks against their players, and will not abide the kinds of sentiments Giuliani and Bonucci expressed.

Instead, all the club has done to address the matter is retweet Matuidi’s “#NoToRacism” message and send out a link to the interview in which Chiellini said Kean did nothing wrong. Apparently, the only thing Juventus and the club president feel strongly enough about to go on the record and state the party line is to deny a victim’s account of rape with it involves their biggest star, Cristiano Ronaldo.